Those who know me best often tease me about – well, everything, really, but when we go to restaurants, I’m sure to receive some good-natured jabs. The menus arrives, and they know that I head straight for the back to check out the desserts, then work my way to the front. I like to know what’s available so I can plan my entire meal order accordingly.
If there’s at least one intriguing dessert offering, I’ll either order less for appetizers and main courses or take more home in doggie bags so I can satisfy my enormous sweet tooth later. And if desserts aren’t on the main menu, I’ll ask for a dessert menu right off the bat so I know what’s in store for later.
A recent trip to a quirky doughnut shop in Philadelphia got me thinking: What are the most delectable desserts I’ve ever had? And which ones am I most anxious to try for the first time?
I may have spoiled my appetite coming up with these lists, but it was so worth it. You know you want to, too. So, go ahead… Dig in!
On a summertime trip to the South County region of my home state, we made a spontaneous stop for lunch at a waterfront restaurant about which we’d heard good things. You don’t often see red velvet cake on the menu at most restaurants, and being a lover of same, I had to try it. Not only was the portion generous (four layers of cake and about a 30-degree angled slice), it was the moistest piece of red velvet I can ever remember having. Needless to say, I will be returning to Turtle Soup… if only for dessert!
I have to thank AFAR magazine for introducing me to this delectable donut shop. There are two of them, actually, both in Philadelphia, and while they share three “hot” varieties (vanilla spice, strawberry-lavender, and cinnamon-brown sugar), they produce six creative flavors apiece that are distinctive to that particular store. For example, the Federal Donuts on Sansom Street might have cookies & cream, lucky peach, banana cream pie, milk chocolate-peanut butter, sticky bun, and strawberry ginger, while the 2nd Street location will feature six entirely different ones. One or all flavors can change on a whim, depending on the staff’s caprice, the manager of Sansom Street told me when I dropped in there recently. Ideally, you should do yourself a favor and go to one location and buy a half-dozen, then go to the other a short drive away and get their six, for a truly unique dozen.
I’d heard tales of how much different (read “better”) gelato is than ice cream, but it wasn’t until I consumed my first spoonful of authentic Italian gelato back in 2007 that I fully understood how true those statements are. The creamy texture, the myriad varieties, and the inimitable Italian ingredients are what set this apart. Wherever I went in Italy, I found “gelaterie” (gelato shops) that were equally as mouth-watering as the last. When it comes to gelato, you can’t go wrong, when in Rome… or Florence, or Milan, or really anywhere in Italy. Just pop into any gelateria and treat yourself to a few “cucchiaiate” (spoonfuls).
Please, please, PLEASE do not confuse these delightful little mouthfuls with another yummy dessert with a similar name. Macaroons (two Os) are coconut-based goodies and very delicious as well (though I’m a sucker for just about anything with coconut). Macarons, on the other hand, are dainty meringue cookies with a creamy middle layer that just dissolve into your taste buds with each bite. There are confection factories like Ladurée and Pierre Hermé in cities around the globe that might have more name recognition, but for my money, the lovely little plate of five that I had for dessert at Café Marly will be hard to top: strawberry, pistachio, chocolate, grape, and vanilla (see photo above left). I can still taste them in my mind.
I’ve never been a big fan of the Big Easy, but I am of the city’s signature dessert, invented (so I’m told) at the world-renowned Brennan’s restaurant. As if the scrumptious flavors of rum, banana, vanilla ice cream, butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar weren’t enough, Brennan’s augments them with a dramatic, magic-act-like preparation and presentation (a ball of flame erupts right at your table).
The folks at AFAR clued me in to these delights as well. They look like a combination cake/donut filled covered in chocolate and coconut and sometimes featuring fruity jelly inside. Whenever I make it Australia, this will be high on my list of Musts.
I saw a recipe for these in the newspaper back when Vancouver was hosting the Winter Olympics. Clipped it out and tacked it to my fridge, but have yet to attempt them. Again, chocolate and coconut are the headliners, but these also contain graham crackers, almonds, and other sweets. I could try them out on my own, but I’d rather wait till I taste them in Vancouver first.
Cups of creamy custard sitting in a flaky crust originated in the Belém neighborhood of Lisbon, Portugal. I suggested them to my parents when they went on a recent trip. They sampled some and raved about them.
Essentially, this is just really chocolaty chocolate cake, but I’ve heard so many great stories about this particular one, made famous at the eponymous hotel in Austria’s capital city. My dream is to go to Vienna, sip some of their equally famous coffee, and nibble on Sacher-Torte while listening to the city’s other great contribution to world culture: classical music.
What we here in the States call German Black Forest Cherry Cake. Chocoloate cake and cherries? Danke schön!
Did I leave any off this list? Please let me know! Drop me an e-mail, Tweet me (@E_Scal), or post an Instagram photo and include @E_Scal in your caption.